Friday, April 10, 2009

Top 20 Guitar Albums

When I was first learning to play guitar, a guitar teacher took a few minutes to offer some sage advice. "Jorge, there are two albums that you HAVE TO listen to: BB King Live at the Regal and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers".

Okay, so I managed to find these on vinyl and listened to them quite a bit. (I think BB King was in the supermarket, of all places). Sure, these are some awesome albums. In fact I still cop a few licks that I learned off these.

But I got to thinking: What ARE some of the greatest guitar albums? Can I limit it to just 2? or 5? After thinking about it for a bit, I think 25 is a more reasonable number. I would like to say that this is a guitar lesson and I'm giving you advice on some albums that you should listen to. It might be more realistic to say that these are my favorite guitar albums ever. However, it's true: if you are learning, these are some excellent sources of truly inspired musicianship. In a few cases, I couldn't pick my favorite for a certain artist - some options are provided so pick up what you can find.

1. Stevie Ray Vaughan - In step. Some guitar players take note that Stevie played fairly heavy strings on his guitars and really had to wail and have some beefed up callouses on his left hand. He really cleaned up his act by this album and his playing is really clean.

2. Iggy Pop - Raw Power. Some crazy, loud, crude simple playing that totally stands the test of time.

3. Buddy Guy - Slippin' In. Take some lessons from the MASTER. Listen to the way that he EXPRESSES with his bends. Buddy has influenced the biggest names like Jimi, Stevie, Beck, Clapton, Page, and so on and so on. Who else has the guts to play a polka-dot painted guitar (AND has some guitar skills)? Some people prefers his earlier more basic stuff. Whatever, you've got your pick of Buddy albums.

4. Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland. Listen and learn.

5. Johnny Winter - Johnny Winter. His first self-titled debut is a great starting point. Man can this guy wail! He covers several styles of blues.

6. Jeff Beck - Blow by Blow. A seminal and bold album in the history of guitar. The dimished 5th car horn sound in Freeway Jam is a classic. Scatterbrain has some of heaviest riffs I've ever heard. Some alternate live versions are on the classic "Jeff Back and the Jan Hammer Group Live". Needless to say, I had a hard time deciding between Blow by Blow and Wired, which has the awesome 7/4 rocker Led Boots. Everthing that Beck does helps him express: slide-ups, pre-bends, tone changes, attack variations, pull-off runs on open strings.

7. Led Zeppelin - Presence. Speaking of Led...Presence is one of least appreciated Zep albums. At the same time, it's a return to some more stripped down stuff at a time when Page has some strong skills. Nobody's Fault But Mine and Tea for One feature some great bluesy solos.

8. Living Colour - Vivid. Heavy distortion and chromaticism that alternates with clean guitar sounds and volume swells. Listen to main riff of Cult of Personality.

9. Rage Against the Machine - Battle of Los Angeles. Tom Morello has pioneered crazy and unique sounds to come out of the effects chain, along the lines of Robert Fripp's Frippertronics. Except that Morello rocks and never goes jazzy. Many of his solos are beyond my comprehension. But then he dishes up some simple pentatonic rock riffs that we can gobble up. I think he does a lot of stuff in dropped D tuning.

10. Yes - Fragile. Back in the day there was a thing called Superbands where every band member excelled in skills. Steve Howe provides a legendary mix of rock with classical influence. I think he often played a Gibson ES-175. He obviously knows his scales and time signatures inside and out and backwards.

11. Santana - Abraxas. When you hear ONE NOTE of Santana you know who you're listening to. That can be your new goal: when someone hears ONE NOTE of your playing, your style is so distinctive that they know it's you. ONE NOTE.

12. Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Oz. Randy Rhoads totally set up Ozzy's solo career. Back in the day we were all blown away by how Ed Van Halen had revived the whammy work of Hendrix and how he was amazing every one with his right handed hammer-ons and pull-offs. All of a sudden, WHAM! along came Randy out of the blue to further evolve the Van Halen LA-style of rock guitar. Randy often TRIPLE TRACKED his solos. Did it hurt to build up those callouses on your left hand? Time to get going with callouses on your right hand for your right handed hammer-ons and pull offs. Listen how Randy throws in a passing note or two in between Ozzy's singing phrases.

13. Infectious Grooves - It's the Plague That Makes Your Booty Move It's the Infectious Grooves. More of a "project" than a band but it really caught on. Distorted punk riffs alternate with clean funky guitar work. Features Mike Muir (Suicidal Tendencies), Robert Trujillo (Ozzy, Metallica), Stephen Perkins (Janes Addiction, Porno for Pyros).

14. Molotov - Dance and Dense Denso. Mexican rock/hip hop in Spanish and English.

15. Deep Purple - Machine Head. Ritchie Blackmore rips out some clean blues rock guitar solos on Lazy. Space Truckin has some great basic rock riffing.

16. Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger. Listen to early Soundgarden. Listen to Rage. Some things are great on their own. Like chocolate. Or mustard. Not so great when mixed together.

17. Alice in Chains - Facelift. Not so hard to pick out some of this stuff. Great motivation to stay off the horse.

18. ZZ Top - Tres Hombres. The early stuff with guitars totally rocks. Billy Gibbons is the master of the right-handed thumb harmonic. Nice trick, just don't over-use it. Their Deguello album is also very cool. (Just blues and rock guitars, no synthesizers).

19. Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf. This is their best work.

20. Ry Cooder - Mambo Sueno. Features Manuel Galban. Here's a whole new universe for you to explore.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I'm a b-b-b-bad country boy!

I've been practising "Thank God I'm a country boy" in a super heavy version.

Think of crossing George Thorogood's "Bad To The Bone" with "Thank God I'm a Country Boy". Lyrics are belted out over a heavy blues riff. Bad ass!

Sooo, I'm not sure about playing the nylon string. This version calls for a big acoustic with heavy strings so I can knock the snot out of them with some heavy hitting. Might have to adjust some lyrics, too

"Got me a pipe, got me some whiskey
Ready to fight, it's gonna be risky
Life's nothing but getting really, really frisky
Thank god I'm a country b-b-b-b-b-b-boy!"

Hmmm, well I might hold off on the lyrics changes....